Country Perspective’s Top Ten Albums Mid-Way Through 2020

2020 has been a tumultuous and crazy year around the world. But throughout all the madness of this year, I’ve found this year in albums to be pretty damn amazing in terms of quality. In fact it’s already surpassed the last couple of years and 2020 is easily on pace to be at the fantastic levels of 2014-2016, which saw some of my absolute favorite albums of the 2010s released. By year’s end some really good albums won’t even crack the top ten that would easily make it in average years. From your usual suspects and new contenders to surprise releases and comebacks, my best albums of 2020 list has a little bit of everything in terms of sound and artists. So without further ado, here are Country Perspective’s Top Ten Best Albums of 2020 so far (in no particular order)…

(Click on the titles to read the full review)

Dua Lipa — Future Nostalgia

Dua Lipa delivers an absolutely fantastic album in Future Nostalgia. It has the elements I want to hear in a pop album and it comes oh so close to be an album of the year contender. Despite one slip-up, this album delivers everything else perfectly. It encapsulates disco, electro pop and dance music with the kind of aplomb and grace I would expect out of Carly Rae Jepsen, while at the same time delivering incredibly infectious hooks and vocal performances that will stick with you long after listening. This is one of the best pop albums you’ll hear in 2020.

John Moreland — LP5

LP5 is another fantastic album from John Moreland. He’s always been a great songwriter since his first album, but it’s the recognition to grow and experiment with his sound starting with his last album that’s taken him to a whole new level in my mind. Too many singer-songwriter artists think they have to stick to a stripped-down, folk-y sound for their lyrics to be taken seriously. At the same time, drum machines are dismissed as “not real instruments” used by pop stars. Well with LP5, Moreland proves both these claims to be moot.

Khruangbin — Mordechai 

While I wouldn’t put it at the level of their great, southwestern-flavored 2018 album Con Todo El Mundo, this album is another pretty damn good record from the trio. This album centers mostly around a groovy, psychedelic funk sound with tinges of disco and jam pop mixed in at times. The band also surprises by mixing in some vocals on this record and they actually work pretty well. Most importantly they don’t detract from the hypnotic sounds of the band, which will always be the focus and strength of the group. If I had to pick my favorites they would be “Time (You and I)”, “Father Bird, Mother Bird” and album closer “Shida.” The latter is probably the top song for me, as the bass line is simply flawless. And if you’re looking for a relaxing album, you will be hard-pressed to find one more chill than this one in 2020.

Ashley McBryde — Never Will

Ashley McBryde delivers exactly what I had hoped for and then beyond with Never Will. She leans heavily into her natural heartland rock sound and combines it with traditional country to create an album I will remember for a long time. The songwriting is brilliant and varied, running the gauntlet of emotions and most importantly I think Ashley McBryde delivers a flawless presentation of flawed characters. They’re never framed as likable, but real and as they are, which can be hard to get behind as a listener. But just like Sturgill Simpson’s SOUND & FURY, it can be understandable to not want to listen to music about such real and flawed characters, songs where there are no heroes even. For me though this is the music that is truly intriguing and has a lasting impact.

Tennis — Swimmer

With Swimmer, Tennis delivers an excellent album about love. It’s quickly became one of my favorite love albums. And this isn’t rash hyperbole on my end. I’m being serious when I say that this album truly delivers a heartfelt, genuine and truly touching take on true love. Love albums and love song are an absolute dime-a-dozen. They’re churned out every day. Most only focus on the surface level of love and the flip-side with heartbreak. What they don’t ever seem to focus on are the little things, the nitty gritty of relationships that aren’t easy to convey in an informative and interesting way. But that takes brilliant songwriting with equally high-quality production that aids it. Tennis delivers this.

Jason Isbell and the 400 Unit — Reunions 

While I wouldn’t put this amongst the very best of Jason Isbell’s work, it’s yet another fantastic album from the singer-songwriter and his talented band. Reunions more than anything is a testament to Isbell’s relentless pursuit of his craft and how he constantly pushes himself to do better than he’s done before (which is quite difficult considering how high he sets the bar). Of course as always there are lots of sad songs too. But it’s hard to argue anyone writes sad songs better than Isbell. Every generation has their own Dylan and Lennon. I feel it’s safe to say Isbell is that level of songwriter for this generation.

Denzel Curry & Kenny Beats — UNLOCKED

The songs themselves don’t have any big messages and are essentially bangers that focus on delivering fun bars. So many hip-hop albums are like this today and many are largely forgotten because the delivery just flat-out sucks. But Curry brings so much aggressive passion and rawness in his voice, along with his choice of diction in his delivery makes what would be an average banger into something that’s truly memorable. And this big reason is why UNLOCKED is the first great hip-hop album I’ve heard in 2020. While it doesn’t quite reach the heights of ZUU (an album I’m ashamed I omitted from my best of 2019 list), this is yet another high-quality project from Denzel Curry (and another great one from Kenny Beats too).

Carly Rae Jepsen — Dedicated Side B

Dedicated Side B is yet another pop masterpiece from Carly Rae Jepsen. I can’t believe how she just continues to blow me away with fantastic project after fantastic project. Jepsen won Country Perspective’s 2019 Album of the Year with Dedicated and she’s putting herself in the unprecedented position to win it again in 2020 to make it back-to-back. It’s simply incredible. And oh yeah she still has another album on the way.

The Weeknd — After Hours

After Hours is a phenomenal achievement by The Weeknd. This album is a rich, cinematic experience of love, losing it, fighting to regain it and ultimately reaching the realistic conclusion of realizing that it’s lost. The production team absolutely nails every emotion on this album and takes the lyricism to a whole new level. The juxtaposition of the breezy, mixed cocktail of genres (R&B, pop, hip-hop, dream pop, 80s) feels perfect on this album of frenetic, dark emotions that permeate throughout it. This is without a doubt an album of the year contender.

Tame Impala — The Slow Rush

The Slow Rush is another great album from Tame Impala without a doubt. But it’s also hard not to see this album is a few missteps away from equaling the brilliance of Currents. It lacks focus in a few spots and there’s one song that just isn’t needed. But this is also a bit nitpicking admittedly. The production from Parker is once again deeply rich and textured, engulfing you with it’s fantastic details. And the songwriting mostly hits. So ultimately I can say this is one of the best albums you’ll hear in 2020.

Honorable Mentions (just missed the top ten)

Album Review – Kip Moore’s ‘Wild Ones’ is Mainstream Country’s Best Rock Album

Kip Moore is much more of a natural rocker than many of his country counterparts, save for maybe Eric Church. But even after Moore’s debut album Up All Night, there are comparisons being made to the likes of Springsteen more so than Luke Bryan or Jason Aldean. Even seeing Moore live in concert (back when “Young Love” was his radio single) proved that rock music was better suited for Kip’s voice, and Kip and his team have tapped that side for his newest album, Wild Ones. This is not a country album by any means; it’s a rock album, but a fairly decent one if I do say so myself.

Wild Ones kicks off with the roaring title track. This song is simply about how Kip Moore and his friends like to party on the weekends. Content wise, this song offers nothing new, but one of Kip Moore’s strengths as a songwriter is that he tells these familiar stories from different angles. There’s no mention that the wild ones are partying on tailgates or back roads, they’re just partying somewhere and having fun. The beat picks up a little bit with “Come and Get It.” Here Kip is thinking about his woman and wants to have that passionate time with her. I like the production behind Moore’s vocals; the guitars layer steadily as the song rises and peaks at the bridge. You can tell there was some thought put into the music.

Kip sings of summer love in “Girl of the Summer.” In this familiar tale, summer has come to an end and the girl in this summer fling has left him without a trace. Kip reminisces of the times they made out in a photo booth, drove with the windows down, and sneaking into junkyards for a late night rendezvous. “Girl of the Summer” has a slower tempo in the verses that rises to an anthemic chorus. Again, this is a frequent story out of Nashville, but Kip adds enough of his own flair to the story for it to have some originality. “Magic” is a love song where Kip thinks her kisses and touch are more magical than any fairytales or TV magicians could create. The production in this song has a sort of fantasy feel to it which is a nice fit given the title. This song seems like a filler song. It’s not bad, but there’s nothing in the song that makes it stand out.

“That Was Us” is mid-tempo rock song with what sounds like a pop drum loop included in the mix. Similar to “Wild Ones”, this song depicts a couple of buddies who let it loose on the weekends and aren’t afraid to drink, smoke, fight, and make love. The song depicts a short timeline with actual character names as they meet and find love. But the third verse finds Kip and his friend hunting down an abusive boyfriend of a female friend until they’re pulled over by the “blue lights.” There was some effort put into telling more of a story here, but like many of the songs here, it’s not all that original. After this is the hard rocking “Lipstick.” This is a song that doesn’t have much of a story or that good of lyrics, but the rock production is awesome. Simply, Kip says he’s been everywhere and will travel anywhere to meet his lady and kiss her lipstick. The verses simply list place after place from Texas to Wisconsin and California to New York. The purpose is achieved after the first verse, yet we’re still treated to two other verses that name more places for no real reason. However, the lead guitar lick helps create an infectious melody behind Moore’s voice.

Kip experiments with an 80s inspired rock melody with “What Ya Got On Tonight.” While Kip travels and meets other beautiful women, he continues to think of the one who has his heart and wonders what she’s wearing. The lyrics are shallow, but again, the production is great and helps cover up for the lyrics. However, Wild Ones, turns the corner at this point and starts to have a bit more variety with lyrical content. “Heart’s Desire” shows Kip Moore in more desperate light after a relationship goes south. He’s a mess because he knows he messed up, but her love is still his heart’s desire. Kip Moore’s raspy voice aids in his delivery as he tries to make it through while still wanting her love to come back to him.

Next is one of the best songs on the album, “Complicated.” This is a love song, but it’s not a pretty fairy tale love. It’s a more realistic look at love with two imperfect people making it work through life’s twist and turns. “All I know sometimes you love it, sometimes you hate it, but what good’s love if it ain’t a little complicated? No it don’t always go like you always hoped it would, but sometimes complicated is pretty damn good.” I like the way the story is laid out and pop rock production makes song even more appealing and easy to listen to.

This is followed with the album’s lead single, “I’m To Blame.” From my review of the song: “The lyrics are pretty safe, and average for a country ‘bad boy’ song. They aren’t offensive, but nor are they groundbreaking, original, or inspired. ‘I’m To Blame’ is a short, catchy jam coming in a quick 2:14 for its run time. He doesn’t waste time with guitar solos in the song; the lyrics are packed in tightly.” Curiously, another song about Kip Moore being himself regardless of anyone else’s opinion follows. “That’s Alright With Me” finds Kip telling us, again, that he likes to drink, smoke, likes good-looking women, and makes no apologies for who he is or what he does. While the content of the verse of these two songs show different sides of Kip Moore, the messages are essentially the same. “That’s Alright With Me” seems like another filler song, and I think it’s placement in the track list was poorly thought out.

Kip offers up another pop rock love song in “Running For You.” Moore has fallen for a girl who wants to run off and chase her dreams wherever the wind blows her toward. Unfortunately for him, he’s unable to travel alongside her, but he knows she needs to go, and let’s her. But his vow to her is that he’ll be there for her when she needs him to. While the production on this song is more on the generic side, this song probably has the best lyrics on the album. The album ends with “Comeback Kid.” This slow-tempo rock song is about how Moore may not be the best right away; he always bounces back and never gives up. He’s thankful that his love continues to have faith in him. It’s a nice song with an honest delivery from Kip Moore.

Like I said above, Wild Ones is a rock album, not southern rock, just plain rock and pop rock. And as a music album I do like it. There were songs with a good rock production that was enjoyable to listen to, and songs where the lyrics and stories stood out more. Even the songs with familiar stories seemed fresher. Kip Moore and his writing team put more thought into these songs than you’d find on many other mainstream “country” albums. Even Moore’s song “Backseat” (which you’ll find on the deluxe version of the album) is a well-written exploration into a boy losing his virginity. Moore spends most of the time on the anticipation, nerves, and vulnerability involved with that action. In comparing that hook up song to the likes of “Strip It Down” or “Burnin’ It Down”, “Backseat” has much better writing. Overall, Wild Ones, has its moments, but there are still some flaws. I like it as an album, but this is Country Perspective, and the fact that this rock album is marketed as country is one of those flaws. With that said, Wild Ones may be the best non-country country album out of Nashville this year.

Grade: 5.5/10

Zac Brown Band’s New Strategic Partnership for Southern Ground

Zac_Brown_USO_tour

On September 19th at the iHeartRadio Music Festival, Zac Brown announced a partnership of his own music label, Southern Ground, with some of music’s biggest label groups and brand masters. Big Machine Records (Taylor Swift, Tim McGraw), Republic Records (The Band Perry, Eli Young Band) and John Varvatos Records are the three labels lined up with Brown’s Southern Ground Artists, who was previously signed with Atlantic Records, in this strategic partnership.

Back in February of this year, renowned fashion designer John Varvatos began a partnership with Republic Records launching John Varvatos Records. From Universal Music’s website, Varvatos’ role in this Republic partnership is to focus on “spearheading the signing of new acts and the release of high-profile reissues and compilations. The imprint’s focus is genuine music in the spirit of legends.” Musical campaigns launched since this agreement included legendary artists like Willie Nelson, Robert Plant, ZZ Top (a Republic Record’s artist) and Dave Matthews.

For Brown and Southern Ground, this is certainly a positive move in respect toward the young music label. For Zac Brown alone, however, this is a curious move. Zac Brown famously criticized Luke Bryan (and subsequently Dallas Davidson) about his song “That’s My Kinda Night” calling that song “The worst song I’ve ever heard.” Alongside those comments was further commentary about how the same guys were writing the same songs in different arrangements.

Furthermore, Scott Borchetta, Big Machine Records’ CEO, has ruffled quite a few feathers among country music purists due to the control he has over his artists and the way he markets them. Republic Nashville, who also includes Florida Georgia Line, is a branch of Big Machine Label Group. Essentially, Scott Borchetta’s label features two of country music’s most successful crossover artists in Taylor Swift and Florida Georgia Line. From a musical standpoint, Brown’s decision to partner up here is a bit of a head scratcher. However, as much as he is a lead singer of a band, he’s also the mastermind behind Southern Ground Artists and this partnership provides several advantages to Southern Ground Artists. While the main motivation for this move revolves around more exposure and growth for the Southern Ground brand, we may see some other musical benefits as well.

Exposure for Southern Ground’s lesser-known artists – Alongside country’s big names on Big Machine, Southern Ground Artists may find more exposure from this partnership. Southern rockers Blackberry Smoke, singer-songwriters Niko Moon and Levi Lowery, and Americana, blues band The Wood Brothers already have a deep collaboration history with the Zac Brown Band. Many of these acts have toured with the band and have great musical catalogs of their own. The exposure that this partnership could provide may elevate these musical careers to a higher, well-deserved level. Not to mention, young acts like the AJ Ghent Band, Dugas and Little Feather may see a quicker rise in popularity as well. Also this exposure should help these artists, along with the Zac Brown Band to get increased radio play and maybe more award show appearances. If these award shows are as political as some claim, then a partnership with Big Machine can only help Zac and his band get some more votes on their side to win more well-deserved hardware.

Crossover Appeal – Blackberry Smoke is a southern rock band. AJ Ghent Band are self-described as “southern soul” with a blend of funk, blues, soul and rock. Dugas have a pop, rock sound. Simply put, Southern Ground Artists do not feature only country music. This label covers a wide range of genres, and Republic Records has the crossover capability to further this exposure. Lorde, Drake, Pearl Jam, Ariana Grande, Jack Johnson and Colbie Caillat are all signed under Republic. These artists from Southern Ground can potentially find a new audience for their music. And it’s not like they’re struggling for a fan base, but Zac Brown Band could also find success in this way too. Their newest EP, The Grohl Sessions Vol. 1 is more rock than any other genre. If these guys continue moving toward rock, then a label featuring ZZ Top, Pearl Jam and Godsmack can’t be a bad partner to have.

Possibility for more mainstream lyrical quality – This is my own opinion, but I don’t believe you’ll find a better group of songwriters than those in Southern Ground. Levi Lowrey’s two records feature great songs like “Wherever We Breakdown,” “Urge for Leaving” and “The Problem with Freedom.” Lowrey is also a credited co-writer on “Colder Weather,” which is arguably one of Zac Brown Band’s best songs. Niko Moon (formerly Nic Cowan) has songs like “Reno” and “Sun Dress” on his studio album, and has co-written Brown songs like “Keep Me In Mind,” “Lance’s Song” and “Day That I Die.” With a writing team like that including Brown himself, frequent co-writer Wyatt Durette, the men from Blackberry Smoke and The Woods Brothers, there’s a chance we could see these names on songs cut by other country artists like Eli Young Band, The Cadillac Three, or even Florida Georgia Line (we can dream, right?) And if there’s one thing we can all agree on, Zac Brown Band has released some great, quality songs to country radio.

More Musical Collaborations – Zac Brown Band and the fairly well-established Blackberry Smoke have collaborated with some of music’s best. It’s no secret Zac Brown enjoys playing and singing alongside his heroes. His band has performed with the likes of Jimmy Buffet, Gregg Allman, Dave Grohl and Dave Matthews just to name a few. And Blackberry Smoke has recorded a version of “Yesterday’s Wine” with the late, great George Jones and Jamey Johnson. With Varvatos’ work with musical legends, we may be treated to more collaborations between Southern Ground Artists and some of music’s best.

Arguably the most important potential benefit here is branding. Southern Ground is more than an independent record label; Southern Ground is a brand of life. Zac Brown has built the Southern Ground Music Festival, Camp Southern Ground, and Southern Grind, a metal and knife shop, just to name a few. Zac Brown commented on John Varvatos’ clothing line and the success of his brand since 2000. Varvatos’ branding skills and marketability should certainly assist in molding the Southern Ground brand Zac Brown has already worked to build.

Admittedly, there is one aspect to be weary of with this partnership. Much like how we may see writers from Southern Ground getting songs cut by Republic and Big Machine artists, we may also see writers from those two labels getting songs cut by Southern Ground Artists. Scott Borchetta has a lot of power in country music. While I don’t think he’ll have the same level of control over Southern Ground Artists like he does his own, it’s possible he may find ways to influence Zac or other Southern Ground groups to record a Republic or Big Machine written song or two for future albums. And recently there has been some questionable songs coming out of these two labels, think “God Made Girls,” “Lookin’ For That Girl,” or “This is How We Roll.” Now, I have faith that Zac Brown won’t compromise his vision for the band or his label by recording songs like that, but it’s one thing to keep an eye on.

From the beginning the Zac Brown Band has done it their way and I don’t expect that to change with this partnership. Overall this strategic partnership is for the Southern Ground brand. This brand is Zac Brown’s baby and as a leader for this brand he made a business move that should positively impact Southern Ground. Zac Brown has a grander vision than simply making music and this partnership is indicative of his efforts to take that vision to the next level. Time will only tell if this will lead to the additional musical benefits listed above. The first big release from this joint-venture will be the newest Zac Brown Band album, which is due out in the early half of 2015. And for that band, at least we’ll get a good idea of what the future will hold with Southern Ground, Big Machine, Republic and Varvatos coming together. Zac Brown is a man who surrounds himself with individuals whose talent moves his vision forward. When the band released “Chicken Fried” there were only five official members in the Zac Brown Band. That number has jumped to eight this year, due to Zac wanting to add more instrumentation and harmonies to the band’s music. Through adding more avenues for his brand and label to grow, it’s obvious Zac Brown expects big things to happen as a result. And if his band’s growth is any indication, I bet this business move will be successful in its efforts to improve everything enveloped in Southern Ground.

Album Review – The Secret Sisters’ Put Your Needle Down

Fitting The Secret Sisters into one genre of music is an impossible task. Their musical influences are vast, coming from an array of artists and decades. You may be quick to box them in as traditional country; after all, many of the songs on their debut record four years ago are covers of country greats like George Jones, Hank Williams, Bill Monroe and Buck Owens. However, their sophomore effort, Put Your Needle Down, shatters that little glass box and shows the sisters, Laura and Lydia Rogers, playing rock music, a little blues, Motown, 1950s style ballads alongside their country roots. The sisters also focused their efforts for this album on their original material, co-writing 9 of the 12 tracks, with writers such as Dan Wilson, Gordie Sampson, Brandi Carlile and they finished an incomplete song from Bob Dylan. Under producer T Bone Burnett, The Secret Sisters deliver a brilliant album to their fans.

The Best Songs on the Album

Laura and Lydia grew up singing a cappella in their church, and that history and practice of vocal harmonizing doesn’t go unnoticed here. The sisters show off a great vocal range throughout the whole album and they blend their voices together beautifully on every song, especially in “Bad Habit.” The sisters trade lines and verses throughout the song and echo the lines of the song’s outro. This is one of the few songs on the album in which they give listeners a unique, give and take vocal performance, and The Secret Sisters do not let that opportunity go to waste. The song itself is a well-written tune about an addiction. They drop lines that make it fairly clear that this addiction is to a man, but a few verse lines and primarily the chorus leave room for listeners to cast whatever bad habit he or she has onto this song. “Black and Blue” is another song that allows the listener to interpret meaning for him or herself. On the surface, is a song where a female laments over the idea of her man leaving her; she wants another chance from him. But lines like “I’m black and blue worrying over you” lead this reviewer to believe that perhaps he may be abusive and she may be submissive to that abuse. The song is written vaguely enough to allow for this open interpretation without taking away from the surface meaning of loss and heartbreak. Also the impressive Motown groove of the melody helps cover that potentially dark undertone of the lyrics.

In songs where the story is clear, The Secret Sisters drive that story home with their melodies. “Iuka” (which was recently performed on The Tonight Show) introduces us to a young couple in love. Her father is short-tempered and abusive and doesn’t want his daughter to marry, so the couple travels to Iuka, Mississippi to elope. However, the angry father chases this couple until he catches them and the sisters drive the point home with the lyric “two headstones for two lovers who finally got away.” Laura and Lydia cover PJ Harvey’s “The Pocket Knife”, a song about a young woman not wanting to get married despite her mother and suitor’s wish. It’s likely the situation in the song is an arranged marriage and the young girl in the song simply wants independence in her life. They sing this song with an angry passion that’s felt throughout the entire track. It’s worth noting the album’s namesake is a lyric from this song. Both these tracks have heavy, dark moods driven by screeching fiddles, hard-hitting percussions and intense guitar strums. The best part about these songs is that The Secret Sisters keep their perfectly harmonized vocals present in the midst of the heavy instrumentation.

The Worst Songs on the Album

There honestly isn’t a song here that I found bad or worth calling out for a lesser quality. Each song has its own unique value that it brings to the production as a whole.

The Rest of the Album

Besides their harmonies, the one other feature that stood out on this album was the percussion of every song. The tambourines and drums throughout the whole record are outstanding. In fact, the instrumentation as a whole is exceptional. The seasoned production of T Bone Burnett is felt in every song on Put Your Needle Down. They sing Motown (“Black and Blue” “I Cannot Find a Way”), blues (“Bad Habit”), rock (“The Pocket Knife” “Iuka” “Rattle My Bones”), country (“If I Don’t”, “Let There Be Lonely”, “River Jordan”); and The Secret Sisters sound natural on every track. “Dirty Lie” is the song that Bob Dylan had started years ago and sent to the sisters to finish. Laura and Lydia work with Dylan’s draft, and work their own voice into the lyrics to while intermixing their additions naturally to what Mr. Dylan began years ago. “Lonely Island” and “Good Luck, Good Night, Goodbye” are two tracks that have a 50s feel and are filled with more great harmonization and writing. After an album of mostly covers (and well done cover songs, I might add), The Secret Sisters step up to the challenge and establish themselves as artists capable of delivering great original content to a growing fan base. Most artists who undertake an album where they jump into four or five different genres may stumble and fall with the choppy nature of the tall order, but not The Secret Sisters. Laura and Lydia have the vocal gifts to effortlessly deliver authentic sounding songs in every genre they touch, matched with a great production to sell that authenticity.

Overall Thoughts

In the Rolling Stone article linked above, Lydia Rogers says if you can’t categorize your music, then you’re not following a formula or musical trends, which means that your music is truly something special. And that’s what Put Your Needle Down is; it’s something special. This album is a musical time machine, taking it right into the center of each era of great music and The Secret Sisters flawlessly execute every song, delivering a quality that could stand up with each genre’s best. This is no sophomore slump. Laura and Lydia prove their songwriting prowess and establish themselves a strong base on which to build a strong, promising musical future.

Grade: 10/10

 

Album Review – Corb Lund’s “Counterfeit Blues”

Corb Lund is a throwback all the way through. From the style of his music to his overall personal look, he’s the picture of neo-traditional country music. The Canadian country artist is out with his new album Counterfeit Blues, which was recorded at Sun Records in Memphis. All-time greats such as Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley were famous for recording their music at the famed studio back in the day. Lund and his band made this choice because they were going for as they say the whole sound. All the recordings were done with analog methods and this classic sound can be heard throughout the record.

The album starts off with “Counterfeiter Blues,” a song that deals with the genuineness of people, places and things in life. The classic country sound takes front and center in the song. This is followed by “Good Copenhagen,” which is a song about how “good Copenhagen is better than bad cocaine.” The guitar play in this song really stands out to me and gives the song a real bluesy feel. Lund and his band get upbeat and fun with “Big Butch Bass Bull Fiddle.” When you hear this song it makes you want to get up and dance. It feels like an Elvis song meshing with a Cash song, which is just fantastic. It’s a little short though.

Counterfeit Blues keeps the upbeat, fun melody going with “Hair In My Eyes Like a Highland Steer.” It’s another song that makes you want to tap your feet and forget about your troubles. Lund slows it down with “Little Foothills Heaven,” a song about a little slice of heaven in the mountains that is an escape from everyday life. Lund really shows off his softer vocals for the first time on the album. “Five Dollar Bill” reminds me a lot of Sturgill Simpson’s “You Can Have the Crown.” Both songs relate to the artists personally and are about the struggles everyday life. They also approach these struggles with a sense of light-heartedness. You can feel the rockabilly influences in “Five Dollar Bill,” especially towards the end of the song when Lund sings the last few lyrics quite fast (kind of has a Stray Cats feel to it).

“Buckin’ Horse Rider” is about the rough and tough life of a horse rider. I can imagine Lund gained the inspiration for this song from his ranching days. It’s a little too slow for my taste, but the lyrics do a good job painting a picture of what the song is about. Lund sings about living in Alberta, Canada in “Hurtin’ Albertan.” I’m not familiar with Alberta, so I really can’t relate to the lyrics. But Lund once again does a good job painting a picture in my head of what Alberta is like with lines such as “too much old money, not enough booze/east of the Rockies, west of the rest.” “(Gonna) Shine Up My Boots” is a drinking/night out on the town type song (I think). This song really didn’t do much for me because I’m not sure exactly what it’s supposed to be about.

“Truck Got Stuck” is a song about a bunch of trucks getting stuck. The song is like a funny story you would tell your buddies about. I think this is the first song about a truck in 2014 I’ve enjoyed. This is followed by “Roughest Neck Around,” which is about a tough son of a bitch who works on oil derricks. One thing I noticed in this song and in spots in other songs on the album is Lund’s voice sounds a bit distorted. I couldn’t understand what Lund was singing at times on “Roughest Neck Around.” Not sure if it’s a mic problem or the master sound is too low, but it kind of bugs me. The album closes out with my favorite song from the entire thing, “Truth Comes Out.” It’s a haunting song with metaphors peppered throughout the lyrics. It’s one of those songs that make you think and will mean something different to each person that listens. Great way to close the album.

One thing I should point out is these songs aren’t new. These are songs from Lund’s various albums over the past decade and have been simply re-recorded. While these songs are new to most American listeners, this is basically a greatest hits album to Canadian listeners. Nevertheless, I’m sure both appreciate the quality of this album. Counterfeit Blues is a solid album all the way through. In terms of the overall sound, I would describe it as neo-traditional country with Americana, rock and rockabilly influences.

Despite a few nitpicks, I recommend checking out this album. Corb Lund is an artist everyone should become familiar with because you can tell he really pays attention to all of the little details in his music. He’s a true artist who cares about his craft. If you’re looking for a classic sound from yesteryear, Counterfeit Blues is for you.

Grade: 8.5/10

To Purchase Corb Lund’s new album “Counterfeit Blues” click here.